Things You Need to Know about Bot Net Attacks

Bot nets are one of the most common forms of compromise on the Internet today. Bot networks grew out of the explosion of home and user systems and the common availability of high speed Internet connections. Basically, they are little more than systems that attackers have compromised and put under their control that use some type of mechanism to get new tasks or commands and report their results.

Mostly, bot infected computers are home systems that attackers often use for scanning other systems, sending spam or performing other illicit activities. Often, the controller of the bot systems will rent or sell the bot services to others. No matter if they use the systems themselves, or sell their services – usually the master is after one thing, MONEY.

That’s right. They make money from the illicit use of YOUR system, if it belongs to a bot network. They use your hardware and your bandwidth, and they receive the returns. Even worse, if your system would be used in a serious crime, there may be criminal and civil penalties for YOU. While case law continues to grow on this, it appears there may be some capability for some victims of the bot net to come back at you for failing to adequately protect your system – which ultimately caused them damage.

So, the big question is – how do home users protect themselves from bot infections and the other issues associated with them? Primarily, they do by following this advice:

  1. Ensure that your computer has a firewall and anti-virus at all times. Make sure the firewall is engaged and that the anti-virus software is up to date.
  2. Keep your computer current on patches. Turn on the auto-update capabilities of the operating system and make sure you patch your applications if they have available update mechanisms as well. This is a lot like safe sex in that failure to be safe even once can have long term implications on your security.
  3. Consider using a browser that is somewhat hardened or hardening your browser. There are a ton of browsers out there, and a ton of tools for hardening the common ones. Check them out and make sure your browsing tools are protecting you against attack. Don’t use default installs of IE or FireFox – configure them for higher protections, if at all possible.
  4. Consider other security tools and mechanisms. You need spyware tools and other security mechanisms if you travel. Spend some time reading about mobile security and apply what you can to your life.
  5. If in doubt, rebuild your system. THIS IS CRITICAL – there are simply some things that can be done to a computer that impact the long term security of it. If you have doubts about your system’s security – rebuild it and protect it from the start. If you know you have an infection or problem – backup your critical data and rebuild. It is much easier than most other solutions.

Take these steps and some basic vigilance and apply them to your computing experience. Bot nets will continue to be a primary threat to Internet users, but being smart about them and aware of the defenses makes you less likely to be a victim.

WatchDog Content Moving to

If you are a regular WatchDog product user, then you may already know this, but on November 1, 2007 MSI will move all WatchDog content to this blog and begin to phase out the WatchDog client program.

This is being done to simplify the use and access to the information and to enable users to easily leverage our threat intelligence offerings via RSS and other popular mechanisms without using our locked-in client.

The same information that WatchDog has brought to you for years will continue, but hosted here instead of through the WatchDog client. It will also be stored in the emerging threats category – thus making it easy to subscribe or filter on.

We hope you continue to benefit from our work and insights, and please, let us know how you like the WatchDog content and if we can do something better or more helpful with the data.

Do It Yourself Identity Theft Protection

By now you have probably heard the commercials. The CEO of the company gives you their social security number to prove that they have his identity locked down. He is so confident in their process that he is willing to give the world his name, information and SSN.

I probably get asked twice a week about this service, so I decided to take a look at it a bit closer. What I found was a pretty easy manipulation of the credit management system in the US combined with some customer service and consumer offloading of tedious work. What does that mean? It means that you can outsource your identity theft protection to them or you could save $10 a month and do it yourself – IF YOU REMAIN VIGILANT.

How does it work? It works like this. Inside the US credit reporting system, there exists a  mechanism called “fraud alert”. This mechanism can be placed on any account, at any time, by the consumer. The purpose of the mechanism was originally to give people who have already been a victim of identity theft a tool for ensuring that no further damage would occur. The mechanism works like this:

  1. The consumer, or someone with their power of attorney, contacts the major credit reporting agencies and requests a “fraud alert” be placed on their account.
  2. The credit agency places the “fraud alert” on the appropriate credit file. There is no charge for this, it is required by law.
  3. The credit agency MUST contact the consumer prior to approving any change, addition or new activity on the consumer’s account. Failure to do so is a violation by the credit agency of federal lending laws.
  4. The consumer must either approve or disapprove the addition or change. If they disapprove, the creditor should refuse the account activity – THUS STOPPING THE FRAUD.
  5. ** PAY ATTENTION TO THIS ONE ** The credit reporting agency removes the “fraud alert” after 90 days from the date of placement. The consumer, or their legal agent, may renew the “fraud alert” at any time after that 90 day period.

So, that said, you could save the $10 per month and contact the credit reporting agencies yourself. You simply call them and ask that the “fraud alert” be placed upon your own file. If you do that every 90 days, you will have protection from credit attacks caused by identity theft. The key is, you HAVE to do it every 90 days. Miss a day, and you have exposure…

Before you run to the phones, you should also know that having the “fraud alert” on your accounts can be a bit frustrating if you actually want to use your credit or open new loans, accounts, etc. Sometimes, creditors will simply refuse the accounts until the “fraud alert” is removed – regardless of your consent to open the account. Other than that, it is a pretty tight mechanism for protecting your information.

There has been a lot of media attention to the company in question that has made this service popular. They seem to be everywhere. Their marketing is certainly working – though I would estimate, mostly due to consumer fear. My guess is that it won’t be too long until the fears they seem to be playing to will lead to saturation and slower growth, but my friend Alex always told me “You can sell just about anything for $10 a month.”

So, at the end of the day, is this a service you buy or a task you manage yourself? Is it worth worrying about, or is it something you deal with if you have a problem? Only you can decide if you are capable of managing the work or if you would rather have someone do it for you. No matter what you decide, at least you know the facts. As with most security things, it is less magic and mystery and more of a common thing.

Should you decide to do it yourself, here are the contact numbers for the three primary credit reporting agencies and for the primary checking account verification house in the US (same thing applies)….

Equifax – 1-800-525-6285
Experian – 1-800-422-4879
Trans Union – 1-800-916-8800
Chex Systems (check fraud management) – 1-800-428-9623

VMWare Virtual HoneyPoint Host Appliance

MSI is proud to announce a VMWare appliance based on Damn Small Linux (DSL) for HoneyPoint hosting.

The VM appliance is available free from the HoneyPoint FTP site provided in your license documents. The appliance currently has all available HoneyPoints installed and configured to autostart with the installation.

Root and “dsl” account passwords are “hpss”. Obviously, please change the passwords when you configure the system!

All HoneyPoints have basic configurations provided, and will need to be edited for the location of your console. Currently, they point to

The appliance is capable of being used in any of the VMWare products from Player to ESX and includes use in the OS X Fusion environment.

You can use the VM to emulate entire workstation(s) on the network using Player and such, or use ESX to sprinkle them around your virtual environments en masse. The image is smaller than 60Meg and needs less than 128 Meg of RAM at full utilization. In testing, we easily ran 10 of them on older machines still waiting in the lab for death or recycle….  😉

Let us know if you have any questions, or comments. We really dig this idea and folks seem to really want it.